By Nick BeJeaux
“This community believes art is important and that Mid City is important.”
In the past, Baton Rouge’s Mid City has had a bit of an image problem, but visitors to the Ogden Park Prowl this past weekend were gifted with a taste of the not-so-secret community of artists that thrives there under the somewhat gritty exterior.
The eight blocks of Ogden Park – Beverly to Ogden and North Boulevard to Government – were transformed from a quiet neighborhood into a bumping art festival exclusively featuring local artists from the neighborhood. According to Robin Neil, president of the Ogden Park Civic Association, the Prowl was founded last year to give local artists a venue to share their art, but also show the value Ogden Park has for Mid City and Baton Rouge as a whole.
“People used to think this area was dangerous, but we want to dispel that,” she said. “This is not a dangerous area at all. Sure, we have crime, but no more than anywhere else in the city. We’re all just a bunch of close art loving-folks.”
Neil and many of her neighbors believe that by showing their love of art and celebrating their local talent, people will begin to change their minds about the area.
“I hope that it makes people aware of this neighborhood because it is a small neighborhood, but we think that this happens to be the best eight blocks in Baton Rouge. We want to show people that,” said Neil. “All of the people out today – whether they’re artists or donating their homes or lawns – are all volunteering their time and efforts to do that. This community believes art is important and that Mid City is important.”
Part of that community is Elizabeth Ferrell Foos, a poet and professional development instructor for education. During the Prowl, she stood in her driveway with a microphone, sharing her poetry with passersby.
“I write about what’s happening. I like to bear witness like Walt Whitman, and use my art to record what goes on around me, ” she said.
When asked about living in Ogden Park amongst other creative souls, Foos said she would never want to live anywhere else in Baton Rouge.
“I grew up in the Garden District and I have the opportunity to move back into my childhood home, but I’m not going to. I’m selling that bigger, much more expensive house so I can stay right here. This is the most eclectic, diverse neighborhood in BR – across the board.”
Spoken word poetry, visual art, creative demonstrations, food from local restaurants were some of them any cultural distillations on display.
Mark Carroll is a Raku sculptor and graphic designer in the field of public television. Raku is a pottery technique that utilizes smoke and fire to create a unique, metallic finish on clay pieces. Carroll’s demonstration of the art got a lot of curious onlookers; of course, what would an art celebration be without a demonstration involving fire?
“Modern Raku is derived from a Japanese art that developed around 500 to 1,000 years ago,” Carroll. “It was lost for a little while until it resurfaced in the 60s in California. It’s purely decorative. I call it dysfunctional pottery. You can’t eat or drink out of it. People always ask me what to do with it, and I ask, ‘What do you want to do with it?’”
To get the unique metallic finish on the pots requires some knowledge of chemistry as well as creativity. Fortunately for Carroll, years of practice make up for a lack of the former.
“Unfortunately, I don’t know shit about chemistry,” he said. “What I know I’m doing is I’m trying to make one medium – clay – look like another – metal. They’re completely different and people are always asking how I did this with metal. When I tell them it’s clay, they’re very surprised.”
Katy Pinsonat, a graduate student in coastal engineering who is “very far from graduating,” was watching Carroll’s demonstration and had been wandering around the Prowl for a few hours. Like the Ogden Parkins, she appreciates the art and what it does for Baton Rouge.
“I think it keeps Baton Rouge interesting,” she said. “There’s a lot going on here that’s underground – not a lot of people know it’s here. But it’s great to see art here in the community.”